10 min read

Where to start with your affiliate travel campaign

The challenge, and the opportunity

Over recent years, affiliate marketing has increased in complexity. There are more options, more contacts to manage and more data at our fingertips than ever before. It’s an exciting time, but it can also be challenging to manage the crux of what’s really important to deliver a successful travel affiliate campaign.

Although here we take a particular focus on the travel sector, these principles can be applied to ensure success in most cases. So, let’s get stuck in.

Don't just stick to sales objectives

Historically, affiliate marketing was measured solely on ROI and was very revenue-focused. Discount sites and cashback used to rule the roost. However, brands are now moving away from discounts and using the channel more creatively to meet other business objectives, and the travel sector is no exception.

Trainline, one of our global travel clients, uses the affiliate channel to meet numerous objectives. A key focus remains to increase sales and revenue overall, but the primary objective is to engage with affiliates across the whole affiliate mix on strategic campaigns that will attract new customers. The brand’s existing customer base is loyal due to Trainline’s high quality product offering, leaving the main efforts within the channel going towards growing this loyal customer base. 

Content affiliates are pivotal to acquiring new customers. They typically fall earlier in the customer journey, and this is often where potential customers are introduced to a brand, where brands can ensure they achieve long-term results. Working with these types of affiliates will help uplift your overall travel affiliate campaign performance. Keep in mind that you may not see sales directly from these affiliates, but they are a source of new customer acquisition and you will see more conversions by your incentive-based affiliates.

Lead generation is another strategy you should consider. Many affiliates are open to running competitions and sharing data gathered for future marketing purposes. There are an array of email affiliates that can be used to target potential customers, using segmented databases that fit your customer demographic. With travel having such a long lead time, this is an excellent idea to be able to market directly to people you know are interested in what you have to offer.

Partner up and talk to publishers

Publishers are the most important part of your affiliate programme and determine how successful you will be in achieving your channel goals and objectives. It is important to work with a wide mix of affiliates, especially in the travel sector, as holidays are a considered purchase – the buyer journey far more complicated than to merely assume that the cheapest wins.

Discovery can happen at any time.” – Econsultancy

Historically, the buyer journey has been a linear process, but even back in 2014, Econsultancy were reporting the massive change in how people purchase products or services due to the rise of social media and technological advancements. This has only become more apparent in the years since that article was published.

Affiliates were previously seen as ‘converters’ and therefore sat at the very bottom of the funnel, but, as marketers’ approaches have changed, so too has affiliate marketing. The shift towards content-based marketing has filtered into the affiliate world, which is no surprise.

People no longer want to be told what to buy, or be subjected to mass marketing techniques. They want to work with useful and inspiring brands, and then if they can get a discount too, great. Making sure you hit as many touchpoints as possible in the channel is integral to a fruitful travel affiliate campaign. 

Plan ahead

Planning ahead may sound obvious, but it is often overlooked – leading to a last-minute scramble. Know your marketing plan as far ahead as physically possible and then share these plans with your affiliates.

With the shift towards content-driven strategies, it’s even more important to look ahead, as producing high-quality, informative content takes time to compile and review. Gone are the days of relying on last-minute voucher codes and flash sales at 4:30pm on a Friday. Those sorts of quick-win activities should instead supplement a broader strategy. 

When planning your wider marketing strategy, build the affiliate channel in. Affiliate marketing is a great channel for targeting specifics and working outside of your general marketing activities. This works particularly well with travel, as the affiliate channel can be used to highlight specific trips. You may have a destination or trip type that struggles at particular times of the year. By using the affiliate channel, you can work with niche affiliates to put a spotlight on these trips and, in turn, improve their performance.

As mentioned, lead-time on travel bookings can be a lot longer than your average purchase, so planning ahead of peak periods is key. Just as you would approach peak season, you should consider brand exposure in the build-up to busy booking periods to aid the customer experience, and ensure key information is out there within the channel available for research. 

Don't flog a dead horse

The travel market is extremely saturated and competitive, with many vendors essentially vying for the same customer, particularly within adventure travel. So, it’s imperative to make sure you’re doing all of the right things to be successful.

“Consumers need to trust the brand and clearly understand the advantages of booking with that company over another.” – Affiliate Window

In the past, this often meant offering a voucher or making sure your sale offer was better than your competitors’. However, as Affiliate Window mentions in their tips for travel affiliate marketing, customers need to trust and value the brand, and clearly understand the advantages of booking with that company over another.  

It’s no longer about being the cheapest. It’s about being useful, providing high quality content and targeted campaigns to make sure you communicate your brand and message in the right way and to the right people. It’s about how you distinguish yourself from your competitors.

A great way to do this is to facilitate trips for trusted influencers in the travel space, building strong, lasting relationships with these travel bloggers and creating brand ambassadors. These content creators generally have huge social followings and the ability to reach and inform potential customers at various different points of the buyer journey. All too often, travel merchants focus on the “offer” and don’t focus on actually promoting the benefits of booking with them.

Budget and reward your publishers fairly

Budget is a vital part of the process and should be thought about carefully. All too often, we see digital marketing managers that want to focus on opportunities other than voucher and cashback, but need ROI.  

“There is a need for the performance marketing industry to adapt and measure/reward based on other types of actions above and beyond last-click sales.” – Colin Carter, Director of Weather2Travel

As highlighted in Colin Carter’s PerformanceIN article, there needs to be a change of how we reward affiliates across the full user journey. Content publishers are often not rewarded fairly for their part in the buyer journey. Many brands still reward on a last-click basis, despite a shift toward multi-click attribution and merchants wanting to work on a content basis. It is important to understand the full value of an affiliate. This will make it easier to allocate budget accordingly.

In late January 2019, one travel client Intrepid ran a content campaign with Travelzoo to help promote Switzerland trips. This was a tenancy opportunity, and no sales were generated directly from the affiliate during the campaign. However, traffic increased by 140% and Travelzoo drove 91% of all new users that came to the site via the affiliate channel. The article had over 21,910 page views, and since the campaign, Travelzoo have gone on to generate a 1300% increase in sales in comparison to the previous 6 months. 

The lesson here? If you were to look exclusively at the campaign period and from a sales perspective only, this campaign could have been assumed to be a flop. However, looking at the overall picture, we can see that this affiliate and campaign will provide positive results for an extended period of time, while opening up the Intrepid brand to a plethora of new customers. 

This isn't a science

Don’t be afraid to test things. Stop playing it safe!

Yes, it may not always work – affiliate marketing is not an exact science, and there is no definitive formula. Try things, and try them more than once. Run a campaign with an affiliate, and if it doesn’t work, analyse it and learn from it. Optimise it and run it again to see if results are more positive. You’ll never stop learning.

Obviously, there will be campaigns that make no sense, so don’t just go ahead and try anything and everything. Just don’t use ROI as a sole reason to not run a campaign. All too often, advertisers run the same campaigns with the same affiliates. We receive countless emails from the key voucher and cashback sites with the same brands featured every week. This is all well and good if you’re also spending money on affiliates that sit elsewhere in the user journey, but don’t be afraid to try new things and experiment, otherwise your programme will become stagnant.

Learn and optimise

All too often when we look at an affiliate programme, we see that the problem is not optimising it and not learning from campaigns. Optimisation can have numerous aspects, such as commission structures, budget allocation and the affiliate mix. You must analyse your data, learn what campaigns are working and what objectives they are fulfilling, and how you can apply these learnings to future campaigns. 

It’s so easy to only work closely with the top 5-10 revenue-driving affiliates as a means of trying to maximise ROI on tenancy opportunities. However, it is just as important to increase your number of order-active affiliates, reduce your reliance on incentive and diversify your revenue sources.

This will make your programme far more stable and future proof.

Some of what has been covered in the above may seem completely obvious, but you may be surprised to know that a lot of the above are the things we notice wrong with our new clients’ programmes all the time, across more than just the travel sector. Whenever you run an affiliate campaign, try and make sure you have all the bases covered, making sure that you’re then giving yourself a good grounding for success.


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